Assembly staffer, community board member dismissed for anti-Asian Facebook posts

coronavirus racism
Ronald Stewart (left) and Marilyn Franks (right) were both dismissed over anti-Asian remarks regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
Photo by Rose Adams/Facebook

Heads are rolling after an Assembly staffer and a Coney Island community board member were caught circulating racist Facebook posts last week that accused Chinese business owners of spreading the coronavirus. 

Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus (D-Coney Island) fired receptionist Marilyn Franks, who forwarded a Facebook post advising locals to avoid Chinese restaurants for fear of contracting the potentially deadly illness, the Daily News reported

“We urge citizens to stay away from Chinese supermarkets, shops, fast food outlets, Restaurant, and Business, [sic]” read the message forwarded by Franks. “Most of the owners went back to China to celebrate the Chinese New [Year] Celebrations. They are returning and some are bringing along the Coronavirus. Rather be safe than sorry.”

Franks’ endorsement of the anti-Chinese message sparked sharp rebukes from elected officials and Chinese-American community leaders, who blasted the misinformation as “racist and xenophobic.”

“Publicly espousing and promoting such misleading view and divisive messages only create [sic] unnecessary hates and crimes to the community we formed to serve,” said Stephanie Wong, the president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn. “Any openly racist and xenophobic comments have no place in the public discourse.”

Frontus apologized for her staffer’s conduct on March 2, saying that Franks would “complete additional sensitivity training,” but later announced on March 4 that she fired Franks and had directed her whole staff to complete sensitivity training. 

“As a daughter of Haitian immigrants, I was in grade school when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration barred Haitian Americans from donating blood, blaming my community for HIV/AIDS,” Frontus said in a March 4 statement. “Viruses do not distinguish among races and cultures, and I will fight just as hard against misinformation and racism targeting Chinese Americans.”

The anti-Chinese vitriol didn’t stop with Franks — one day after the Assembly staffer’s message began to circulate, a member of Community Board 13 jumped to Frontus’ defense with another racist comment. 

“Ms Frontus should not have [to] apologize, but as a stateswoman she did,” wrote Ronald X Stewart, a longtime Coney Island resident and anti-gun activist, who was appointed to the community board by Borough President Eric Adams. “These Chinese restaurants in our community make millions of dollars off us. They don’t hire us; don’t donate to any of our events and express racism against us … but we allow them to get by and say nothing,” he said. 

The hateful comment, made under a Facebook post on March 3, prompted calls for Stewart’s resignation, which Adams granted on March 4.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the comments made this week by a community board member,” he wrote. “Therefore, his last day serving on the board will be March 31, 2020.”

Frontus, a friend of Stewart’s, honored him with a state-issued proclamation at a Black History Month celebration at the Carey Gardens Community Center last month, the Brooklyn Eagle reported.

Following the remarks, Frontus announced her plans to host a public forum on Friday with Chinese-American leaders to condemn anti-Asian bigotry.

“Bigotry and fear based on misinformation can take hold in communities that do not talk to each other,” she said. “In the midst of a public health crisis, in the heart of the most international city in America, we cannot afford panic and prejudice.”

Ronald X. Stewart did not respond to a request for comment.